Bob Bartley, the former editor of the Wall Street Journal page–and recent presidential-medal-of-honor winner–who passed away this week, was so quiet and modest you hardly ever noticed him, even in a small gathering. But he was always there. Bob always showed up where he felt he should be, for the happy times and for the tough and painful times. Those of us who were lucky enough to have had his friendship were constantly astonished to see him simply appear, celebrating, mourning, counseling, but most of all, being there.
He was a great man, one of the truly pivotal figures of our time, but he was above all a fine gentleman of enchanting humility, and a wonderful friend, all of which added immeasurably to his greatness.
The public Bartley was a fierce fighter who transformed America. It is hard to think of a single major issue in recent decades on which he did not imprint his chop. Supply-side economics was developed by specialists, but explained to the American people by Bob. Modern conservatism is in large part his creation. Along with a handful of others, he rescued anti-Communism from the curse of McCarthyism, deepened the Reagan Revolution, laid the groundwork for the revival of the Republican party, and drove the Gingrich movement. He made brilliant thinkers like Irving Kristol household names. He mentored a new generation of important writers and editors, midwifed new publications like the New York Sun, and rescued others, like The American Spectator. He resisted the terrible rise of the liberal mob, defending Bork and Thomas, reminding us of the vital tradition of public virtue during the Clinton years, and insisting on American uniqueness while the intellectual establishment sought to tear it down in the name of political correctness.
The depth of our loss was dramatically driven home by the eerie conjunction of the news of his death with the Supreme Court’s trashing of the First Amendment. How well, and how calmly, he would have punctured the self-important hubris of the majority decision. And how patiently he would have returned to the ensuing consequences, as arbitrary state power–in the name of some good intention or other–grows to menace the vision of the Founders.
But he has taught us well, and we will carry on as he wished. What cannot be replaced, because it was so rare and so precious, is Bartley the man. True to his roots in Iowa, he cherished this country, he delighted in its variety, he welcomed the rough-and-tumble of wide-open political debate, and he understood that the ability to fight, even more than victory, is the heart of the American enterprise.
–Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. Ledeen is Resident Scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.